Matthew 1:18-25
David A. Davis
December 18, 2022
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“I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom”, the Apostle Paul writes to the church. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Proclaiming the mystery of God in weakness and fear not in words of wisdom, not with the wisdom of this age, not with human wisdom. God’s wisdom revealed through the Spirit. The very depth of God is not taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit. God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, revealed to us by the Spirit. Not the spirit of the world but the spirit that is from God. In that Spirit, according to Paul, we have the mind of Christ. No one can truly comprehend God, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy except by the Spirit of God. For the Apostle Paul, the Spirit of God was pointing to Jesus Christ and him crucified. “…to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…except Jesus Christ and him crucified…except.”

 This is my body, broken for you.

In one of her sermons on the last words of Christ from the cross, the Episcopalian priest Fleming Rutledge says that “For Jews and Gentiles alike in those days, a crucified person was a low and despised as it was possible to be” She points out that the Romans declared that a person condemned to death by crucifixion was damnatio ad bestias (condemn to the death of a beast).  She quotes the historian Peter Brown saying that the Passion narrative of the gospels, the spitting, the scorn, the crown of thorns, the purple robe, was all “a very ancient ritual of humiliation.”

Nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is my body, broken for you.

The writer of Luke’s gospel labeled the crucifixion as a spectacle. “When all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.” Earlier in Luke as Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector going up to the temple to pray, the tax collector could not even look up to even when praying. He could only beat his breast and say “God be merciful to me a sinner”.  Beating his breast as a sign of one’s own lowliness, sinfulness before God. Beating the breast can also be a sign of lament or grief. But when it comes to the crowds and the spectacle of Christ crucified, those crowds who demanded his death, who stayed to watch until his breath was gone, who left beating their breasts, it seems more to me like a crowd of drunk hooligans raucously leaving a game and celebrating that their team one.

This is my body broken for you.

I was struck by the first sentences I read in an essay penned late Friday night a week ago by an African American journalist. “The spectacle of a televised countdown to the showing of the video in which Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten by Memphis police officers doesn’t just theatricalize Black death; it is a damning indictment of American perversion.”  Spectacle. Humanity’s sinful thirst for spectacle never seems to change. “We speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom” Paul writes to the church, “taught not by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”

Nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is my body broken for you.

The Gospel of Matthew records that at the Last Supper, Jesus said “Take, eat; this is my body.” In Mark, it is “Take; this is my body.” Luke reads, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Here in I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul offers what the tradition calls “The Words of Institution”, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘this is my body that is for you’”. Some ancient Greek manuscripts read “This is my body that is broken for you.” Paul makes sure to include “you” Paul emphasizes and doesn’t let the church forget, won’t let all who will follow the Christ every deny his body broken for you. To come to this table, to eat of this bread and to drink of this cup is to “proclaim his death, until he comes again.” For before you sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” you have to sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”. Before you go the empty tomb and shout, you have to stand beneath the cross and weep. Before you proclaim “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” you have to come to grips both deep down in your soul and in the Christian life you are called to profess and so live, come face to face with Jesus Christ and him crucified.

This is my body broken for you.

The Rev Dr. Brian Blount is retiring at the end of the spring term as President of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA and Charlotte, NC. Professor Blount taught New Testament for fifteen years at Princeton Theological Seminary. He and his wife Sharon raised their children in the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church. I have always been struck by the remarkable way Dr. Blount’s academic work reads like his sermons sound. Just a year or two before he left Princeton Seminary for the presidency at Union, Professor Blount was working on and publishing books on the Book of Revelation. “Can I Get a Witness?” is one of those books. It’s subtitled “Reading Revelation through African American Culture.” In a chapter where he unpacks the slaughtered Lamb upon the throne in Revelation, Dr. Blount writes this: “When you throw weakness around, worlds change. Empires fall. Justice rises. People get hurt. Even, perhaps especially, the people who make the changes happen…the draconian devil believes it has found a way to return fire against God by establishing on earth the lordship it could not claim in heaven. The power of countless legions at its back, the partnership of all the kings of the earth by its side, the wealth of the world’s economy in its pocket, the rearmed adversary has ignited a conflict it is certain it has all the necessary strength to win.”

Professor Blount goes on to describe the way of the Lamb and God’s way of wreaking weakness upon the world. He unpacks Revelation’s symbolism of the defenseless wounded Lamb leading God’s response with a motley crew of unarmed, nonviolent disciples following behind. Straining all the boundaries of human wisdom, according to Blount, “God apparently believes this strategy (the way of the Lamb) will win the eternal day and transform human history into a reality in which the dragon is dead and God dwells directly and securely with God’s people.”.  The way of the Lamb. Or as Paul writes in I Corinthians, “God’s foolishness is wise than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is my body broken for you.

Just a few years ago, Calvin University Professor Kristen Du Mez published a compelling, provocative, troubling book titled “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation”. The author does not offer a theological or biblical treatise that focuses on Jesus. It is more of a cultural study of how evangelicals embraced the tough, kick butt masculinity of John Wayne in the 1950’s and how that started a decades long development of view of Jesus contrary to the gospel; a kind of hyper masculinity preaching and teaching that portrays a tough guy Jesus who embodies a militant, conquering, victorious, dominating, even threatening masculinity. In the introduction to the book, Du Mez writes, “Evangelicals claim to uphold the bible as the highest authority in the Christian life…when evangelicals define themselves in terms of Christ’s atonement or as disciples of a risen Christ, what sort of Jesus are they imagining? Is their savior a conquering warrior, a man’s man who takes no prisoners and wages a holy war? Or is he a sacrificial lamb who offers himself up for the restoration of all things” How one answers these questions will determine what it looks like to follow Jesus.”

To know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, one cannot quickly brush off that “ancient ritual of humiliation” that the Savior of the world willingly endured. To know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, one cannot unsee in the sacred imagination that spectacle where humanity’s never-ending lust for power, domination, violence, and the brutal killing of another person, a child of God, God’s own Son. A killing sanctioned by the empire. To know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified is to honestly tell the sordid, truth-filled history of the Christian Church all around the world when the Christ of the gospels and his teaching is twisted and distorted beyond recognition and then used for political gain or to promulgate a dangerous Christian nationalism that demonizes other faiths or to enforce worldly power or to denigrate and subjugate and abuse another person, a child of God, a child of God’s own making. To know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, is to have the hymn from Philippians forever etched in your heart: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

This is my body broken for you.

Some yearn to worship a Jesus of of their own mind’s making. Except…except according to Paul, the promise of God in the power of God’s Spirit and as a gift of God’s grace, the promise s not that we would have a Savior, a messiah, a Jesus of our mind’s making. No. The promise is much more profound than that.  Not we would have the Christ of our mind’s making. The promise of God is that we havewould have the mind of Christ.

Nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

This is my body broken…for you.